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clowncarRepublican presidential candidates should have known they would be asked about Jade Helm 15, the military exercise in several southwestern states that has the nutty wing of the Republican Party, affectionately known these days as “the Republican Party”, thinking the federal government is sneakily establishing martial law, complete with locking up all the “patriots” and taking away everyone’s guns. The tin foil hatters were validated in their fear by new Texas Gov. Greg Abbott who showed that former Gov. Rick Perry was the smart one (please don’t tell me if Perry weighed in equally stupidly)(actually, yes, that would be fun, do tell me).
 
So given a chance to be the Texas Republican who retains a connection to reality, Sen. Ted Cruz chose instead to remember the base he’s playing to:
 

Cruz was more plugged in. “I have a great deal of faith and confidence in Governor Abbott,” said the senator. “He is a long-time friend and mentor of mine. You know, I understand a lot of the concerns raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm. It’s a question I’m getting a lot. And I think part of the reason is we have seen, for six years, a federal government disrespecting the liberty of the citizens. That produces fear, when you see a government that is attacking our free speech rights, or Second Amendment rights, or religious liberty rights. That produces distrust.”

You know what else produces distrust? Demagogic politicians telling reality-detached people their paranoid fantasies are true. Worth a read, Paul Krugman wonders what Democratic politician would give credence to something so crazy, and notices intelligent conservatives indulging paranoia in other areas: Paranoia Strikes Derp.
 
UPDATE: Well, turns out Perry went off in his own direction. He disagreed with his successor, but not because his successor is giving credence to paranoid delusion. No, Perry just thinks it’s wrong to question the military. “It’s OK to question your government. I do it on a regular basis. But the military is something else. Our military is quite trustworthy. The civilian leadership, you can always question that, but not the men and women in uniform.”
 
Does Perry not get that the military is part of the government, and supposedly as open to questioning as any other part of the government? Can’t there be a happy medium between believing the armed forces are out to impose martial law under guise of training, and saying you can’t question them at all?

 

Artist's conception. Not actually Ben Carson

Artist’s conception. Not actually Ben Carson

I’m not aware freshly officially declared candidate Ben Carson has jumped on that crazy train, but he has his own crazy railroad. Carson is running for president on the basis of being popular on the conservative speaking circuit, which popularity he gained by going on a wingnutty rant at a National Prayer Breakfast with President Obama in attendance. Speaking of which, why do presidents go to this thing when they aren’t themselves on the theocratically ossified right? Carson fit right in; Obama, not so much. Salon writer Jim Newell accumulated a bunch of examples of Carson being himself, from saying Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery and worse than 911, to saying the solution to peace between Israel and Palestine is to move Palestine to Egypt, and prisons produce homosexuals.
 
If you want your sleep disturbed tonight, just ponder on the fact Carson used to be allowed to work on brains.

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clowncarJust so we’re clear, the “troubles with the truth” in the headline aren’t necessarily lies. There can be more subtle forms of obfuscation, denialism, and even inadvertent honesty.
 
Or just plain old refusing to check facts that are just too convenient to not use. I’m referring here to Marco Rubio, who claimed Obama refused to comment on the fraudulent election in Iran 2009 that ignited street protests in Tehran. Obama did comment. Rubio is just flat out wrong. My guess is he wasn’t lying, but just repeating a talking point that was so good, it was best to not fact check it. Rubio is hardly the first. The Washington Post’s fact checker has Rubio’s statement and tracked the statements Obama made at the time, though he also did that thing that drives me nuts about fact-checking columns and sites, some of them anyway. They have to do their own twisting to find some way a false statement isn’t completely false, or a true statement isn’t completely true. In this case, Glenn Kessler gave Rubio just three Pinocchios instead of four (and why do fact checkers need the cutesy rating systems?) because Obama could have been stronger sooner, and Rubio would have had a point if he’d said something else. Fact checkers keep doing this. “The president didn’t say that but looking only at part of what he said, the misquoting would have been close to what he was accused of saying, and the person making it up would have been close if he had said X instead of what he actually said, so it’s therefore not completely false.” Why is this so hard for not just Kessler, but other fact checkers too? Rubio said Obama said X. Obama didn’t say X, so Rubio’s statement is false. Rubio’s staff tried to support their boss’s claim by referring to something Obama said that was related to the topic but not what they claimed he said. They should get extra cutesy icons for bogusity.
 
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Was it political cowardice or bad strategy?

by Eric Ferguson on November 21, 2014 · 6 comments

announcement of Donald Rumsfeld's resignation
UPDATE: Heard from the Speaker of the Minnesota House, sadly shortly to be minority leader (replaced by this guy), and looks like some state-specific comments of mine might not hold up. Details here.
 
When Pres. Obama announced his support for net neutrality right after the election, I thought I understood how Republicans felt when Bush Jr. forced out Defense Sec. Don Rumsfeld right after the 2006 election. Well, that was nice, but couldn’t you have done that before we got toasted in the midterm election?! Of course my first response to Obama’s announcement was to be glad he came out so strongly on the side of the angels, but my next thought was to recall an image of Rumsfeld’s resignation being announced. Why not do this before the election, and maybe save some seats?
 
The silver lining of an election loss is it makes us more likely to consider our assumptions. We may not even realize we’re making assumptions. The assumption in this case is the spinelessness of Democratic candidates and elected officials. We in the Democratic base have pleaded for more spine for I don’t recall how long. Back to the 80’s maybe? The 70’s? The 90’s at least. Election after election, but especially during midterms when there’s a Democratic president, we see one self-defeating move after another. The seeming political cowardice wasn’t just on the part of Obama, despite my reaction to the timing of his net neutrality announcement, and despite his failure to do anything on immigration until last night, which I blame for the lower than expected (lower than expected by me anyway) turnout among Latinos. I’m inclined give him a pass on the timing of his strong stances on global warming since those likely had to wait for summits in China and Australia, though that doesn’t explain other Democrats not running on it.
 
Nor do Obama’s decisions excuse Democratic candidates who avoided him during their own reelections, and the many who avoided other Democrats at all, as if they weren’t running on a ticket. There were exceptions: Minnesota’s statewide candidates very much ran as a ticket, campaigning on the Democratic successes most Democrats rarely mentioned, for example; but in general, Democrats ran every-candidate-for-themselves with campaigns focused on appeasing, if not conservatives, then those mysterious centrists.
 
But was it really cowardice? I’m asking the base to question our assumption of gutlessness. Maybe this was strategy; lousy, awful strategy. If that’s the case, if spine isn’t the problem, then no wonder our appeals for political courage seem to achieve so little. We’re making the wrong demand.
 

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isil-300x162‘There are roads which must not be followed,
armies which must not be attacked,
towns which must not be besieged,
positions which must not be contested,
commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.’
Sun Tzu ~ On the Art of War

 

‘Don’t do anything stupid.’
President Barack Obama

 

War hysteria is a fascinating and horrifying thing to watch. I’ve seen it several times now in my life and it is always beyond ugly, like watching scorpions mate.

 

Aside from the verminous lies that tumble over each other like a swarm of filthy rats to electrify public opinion with fear and frenzy, our national leaders — grown men and women whose strength of character and deliberative judgment we rely on — daily prove susceptible themselves to the most transparent mendacity and appear spineless in the face of true moral challenge.

 

Until a few short months ago, the American public had never heard of ISIL and didn’t know a thing about them, even though ISIL has been fighting an insurgency in Syria against the Assad regime for years, and for years it has committed unspeakable atrocities against the Syrian people. The brutal murders of two American journalists notwithstanding, why now the sudden sense of urgency and demand for action in the public discourse and among our leadership?

 

The answer lies in war hysteria.

 

As the New York Times put it:

 

“… as President Obama prepares to send the United States on what could be a years-long military campaign against the militant group, American intelligence agencies have concluded that it poses no immediate threat to the United States. Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians, and that there has been little substantive public debate about the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East.”

 

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President Obama in Minneapolis Thursday and Friday

by Eric Ferguson on June 25, 2014 · 4 comments

President Obama will be making a couple public appearances in Minneapolis this week. On Thursday at 2:10 there’s town hall forum at Minnehaha Park, right near me but I have to work, figures. It’s invitation only and I don’t know how invitees were picked. I’m not one is all I know. Security will be presidentially tight like is normal at presidential events, but living close by, I know how to sneak in along the river and through the woods. I’m kidding!! I’ve been through the security to attend presidential events, and they lose some glamor. If I can’t sit down at some point and get some water, I don’t think I want to do that again. And no, being the local DFL chair doesn’t get me anything in terms of notice or entry or anything.

 

Friday at 10:30 the president is giving a speech on the economy, highlighting the things Minnesota has done right. This will be at the Lake Harriet bandshell. This event is open to anyone, but tickets are required. Distribution started at noon today on a first come first serve basis, so no promises you can still get a ticket. If you’re traveling in the vicinity of Minnehaha Park tomorrow or Lake Harriet Friday, be aware roads and trails might be closed.

 
Here’s the president responding to a letter from a woman in Minnesota, who apparently will get to talk to him while he’s here.
 

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moran… or something
 
The Chair of the Freeborn County Republicans, Mike “Jerrold” Dettle, wrote an op-ed in the Albert Lea Tribune. It contains an excellent example of the moronic logic the Republicans frequently employ to compare President Obama to somebody or something that everyone agrees is bad. This time it’s Hitler.
 

In the column, Dettle makes the statement in a dogwhistle to the notion that President Obama can be compared to Hitler:
 

For example, the Weimar Republic (Germans) in “selfish want” bankrupted their nation and foolishly elected a popular leader with the name of Adolf Hitler.
 
Like us, the Germans had been given their freedom through the struggles of previous generations, only to vote themselves bigger benefits including cabarets. Our own Liza Minnelli mockingly made famous the song that scorned the Germans, “Oh Chum! Come to the Cabaret.”

 
Liza Minnelli’s divine performance in the move “Cabaret” certainly is spectacular evidence for Americans being like the Germans, voting in a popular leader who became a ruthless dictator who practiced genocide on an unprecedented scale, as well as going to war against just about everybody with a handful of allies.
 
Cabaret is a movie starring Minnelli, based upon a 1966 musical, based upon a 1951 play I Am a Camera, in its turn based upon Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novel, Goodbye to Berlin. While immensely entertaining, Cabaret’s not only fiction, but it’s fourth-hand fiction set in 193, set in the Kabarett culture he knew. (What’s up with Minnesota Republicans using musicals, written years after the fact, as primary historical documents in their quest to equate President Obama with Hitler?)
(Bluestem Prairie)

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GOP went after TriCare during shutdown

by Eric Ferguson on October 28, 2013 · 2 comments

obamaDuring negotiations on reopening the government, Republicans wanted cuts to the Tricare program, which provides health insurance to service members and veterans:

 

Later that night, in staff-level discussions, the sides began considering a trade. In exchange for further means-testing of Medicare benefits, as well as reform of federal workers’ pensions and Tricare health benefits for veterans, House Republicans would give Democrats $100 billion in sequestration relief over two years and open the government that Monday.

 

That Huffington Post article is lengthy look at how Democrats handled the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. There are several interesting insidery bits, and remarkably much of it is on the record. Some things had come out before, like Pres. Obama and Sen. Reid agreeing before the crisis came that they were going to hang tough and not negotiate over keeping the government open and avoiding default. However, at the risk it’s just me that missed it, this is the first report that Republicans wanted to include Tricare cuts. Generally republican support for veterans starts and stops with trying to turn current service members into combat veterans, but even when they’ve felt brave enough to go after entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, they’ve left Tricare alone.

 

Seems like their willingness to after it should be a bigger story. Especially if Tricare is how you cover your medical bills.

 

That’s just the bit that stood out in a long article with plenty to interest news junkies and political activists. The core was right at the top, where Obama and Reid had a long heart to heart, having followed separate strategies and cut separate deals with Republicans like a many of us guessed. Reid seems to have been as angry as us in the base over Obama’s caves in the prior crises manufactured by Republicans, and Obama learned from the debacle of 2011, though he hadn’t learned enough — yet. He finally figured out this year that modern Republicans have no interest in governing, no interest in a “grand bargain”, and the search for something they’d like and would agree to was pretty pointless. Reid, for all the criticism of weakness from much of the base (mostly unfair IMHO), did have the opposition figured out much earlier than Obama. This time though, they got on the same page and, when the crisis hit, stuck to the plan:
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Republicans going nuts over Syria

by Eric Ferguson on September 12, 2013 · 0 comments

UPDATE: Colbert’s Rand Paul bit is up.

 

Who knew Groucho was a Republican? Whatever it is Obama’s for, he’s against it. “Like Shakespeare said to Nathan Hale, I always get my man!” There, a knowledge of history to fit in well with today’s GOP!

 

This is about Syria of course. Republicans are upset that Obama is “appeasing”, even in the same column where fellow Republicans are criticized for having supported Obama’s plan to attack (h/t Brian Beutler at Salon) Yes, now that it looks like there’s a deal with Syria and Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons, Republicans are apoplectic. Give them some time to figure out what about. Something about giving in to Syria by taking its chemical weapons away, or being played by Putin who tricked Obama into accepting exactly what he wanted.

Not that it’s any great surprise that Republicans are now upset that there likely won’t be an attack, because there actually is a measure of consistency, which made me think of Groucho’s song. Whatever Obama is for, they’re against. Whatever he does must be criticized as completely wrong. Did I say “Not that it’s any great surprise…”? I meant utterly predictable, given how so many Republicans were insisting on some sort of intervention in Syria until Obama responded to the Aug. 21 attacks by saying some sort of response was required, and then, or at least once they would have to cast a politically perilous vote, attacking Syria was this horrible idea. And now they’re upset Obama apparently found a way to get rid of the weapons without having to actually fire missiles. Cripes, the way they keep changing their position, you half expect them to nominate Mitt Romney for president. Oh, right.

 

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Syrian war crimes trials or missiles

by Eric Ferguson on September 8, 2013 · 0 comments

map of Syria showing approximate area held by each side

map of Syria showing approximate area held by each side

I’m skeptical of suggestions of ad hoc war crimes trials as a way to respond the chemical weapons attacks in Syria, partly because they’re so far just congressmen tossing off suggestions at a time when Congress is working on the specific wording of resolutions already, but let’s suppose the idea was developed and serious. There are other problems. When there’s already a permanent International Criminal Court which most nations have signed on to, but not the US, the only interest in an ad hoc court might come from us. Are we willing to do that alone? Would such a court have any legitimacy? If some future Syrian government would support such a court, it won’t actually need or even want our help. Even if such a court can get up and running, it would have the legitimacy problem of being perceived as victor’s justice. Even that assumes that the prospective defendants can be brought to trial. If they attain or retain power, trying them isn’t going to happen. Besides, maybe knowing there’s an indictment hanging over their heads, maybe they have an incentive to fight to the bitter end, well past any realistic hope of victory.

 

Back to the ICC, it’s already there, and already legitimate to just about everybody except us. What if instead of trying to create some ad hoc court just for Syria, Bashar Assad and everyone accused of using chemical weapons, or committing any other war crimes, could be indicted before the ICC? What if the president dropped the idea of firing missiles, and went for signing on to the ICC instead?

 

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Syria isn’t Iraq and Obama isn’t Bush

by Eric Ferguson on August 28, 2013 · 32 comments

Update 2:50 PM: Here’s a map showing the parts of Syria under control by different sides. It comes from this Daily Kos diary which provides good background and which I recommend.


 
UPDATED
 
To be sure, President Obama will explain whatever decision he makes regarding Syria with a credibility problem, partly of his own making and partly inherited. The self-inflicted part can be summed up in a sentence: leakers of classified information to the press are in prison or hiding while war criminals are going unprosecuted. The general public might not care, but Obama’s base does, and he’s going to need our support for a potentially unpopular intervention.

 

The other problem Obama inherited from Bush Jr. Essentially, the attitude is Bush lied to trick the country into going to war, so Obama is lying too. It would betray a gross ignorance of history to think Bush was the first president to lie about a war, but not all presidents are guilty and not every use of force is based on a lie. Decisions might be arguable or even terribly wrong, but they’re not all lies. To believe Obama is no different from Bush and whatever decision is made about Syria is the same as invading Iraq isn’t skepticism. That’s cynicism — and I do see some of us engaging in cynicism.

 

The alternative to believing just anything isn’t insisting on believing nothing. Skepticism means demanding proof before accepting a claim. Why did most of us on the left oppose invading Iraq? If it was because we knew we were being lied to, then I suggest some faulty memories are at work. We suspected deception, but all we had to go on was what was presented to the public, and we didn’t know Iraq had no WMDs or ties to Al Qaida. We just knew the Bush administration’s case wasn’t holding up to scrutiny, and if you’re asking us to inflict the horrors of war on another country, you better have awfully strong proof — which they didn’t, even before we knew they cherrypicked the evidence to reveal only the supportive parts and withheld contradictory evidence.

 

Yet here is where we get to a huge difference between invading Iraq and whatever Obama decides about Syria. There was no war in Iraq until Bush started it, and his administration conducted a long sales campaign to gain public and congressional support. There is already war in Syria. Obama isn’t starting it, and he quite clearly doesn’t want to get involved. If he did, he’s already had plenty of pretext. He knows how to run a public relations campaign. He could have intervened a couple years ago if he wanted. He could have used Syria to distract from the 2011 debt ceiling crisis. He could have ginned up a war in time for  his reelection, given how the country rallies around the president in wartime. Obviously he chose not to. In terms of domestic politics, Obama has nothing to gain by involvement in another conflict. The public clearly doesn’t want to get involved, and explaining the reasons for getting involved will be difficult, which is a headache Obama certainly won’t want. We can also figure a president who reads and personally signs all condolence letters to families of dead servicemembers is fully aware of what risks he’ll be ordering for real people.

 

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